Yelling and the Brain
“My name is Luka
I live on the second floor
I live upstairs from you
Yes I think you’ve seen me before
If you hear something late at night
Some kind of trouble, some kind of fight
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was
Just don’t ask me what it was” — Luka by Suzanne Vega
Last week pushed me over the edge and into a full unbreathing and frozen but hyperventilating seizure.
A lot of people don’t understand what I mean by “seizure” and why I have them. In my case it’s the result of constant verbal abuse and yelling when I was first conscious as a child. It was unavoidable. My parents at each other, my father at my brother, My mother at me along with a lot of physical violence, my brother at me with the same level of violence or worse, and ultimately my father at me too. It followed me from my bedroom to the dining room, to the car, the bus to school, family vacations and back again. It was my status quo.
But I never had a technical seizure at the time, I never fell on the floor, frothing, convulsing; I just internalized it becoming quieter and quieter, and more tense and withdrawn. My amygdala developed a very strong self-protective hold over my entire body’s response to the anger around me. And I became a tight ball of silent vibration. At the time if I’d talked to a doctor about it, I probably would have been diagnosed with high anxiety, depression and a tendency towards panic attacks. But I never spoke to a doctor or anyone about what happened in my home. I put it all in a drawer in my brain labeled “never to be opened”. Ultimately that drawer became a massive malignant brain tumor quickly followed by the death of one of my two adrenal glands that kept the drawer safely shut.
But when you lose one of your only stress-management organs, “managing stress” becomes an oxymoron.
And my seizures are more like sudden mini strokes. Because the tumors were on the right side of my body, my left side loses control. I lose my vision, I lose my ability to balance and stand, my left adrenal gland overreacts to the strain of doing the job of 2 adrenal glands and my left lung struggles to keep functioning.
It’s an absolutely terrifying experience. Triggered by a long-ingrained and bodily-internalized memory of anger and yelling.
This past week regurgitated all of that. The stress of the January 6th hearings, the over-heating world, attorneys silently yelling at each other and the audibly yelling at each other, followed by a text exchange accusing me of lying and not upholding my promises just pushed me over the edge. And my only recourse was a low-dosage Klonopin, to douse the live electrical pulses running through my nervous system.
I tell this to you as humans, as children, as parents, as teachers and care-givers. Pleading with you to think twice before raising your voices and hands against children.
Because the long-term repercussions are very deadly and real. And the alternatives are so much better for everyone.
Holly Lynch is a 20+ year ESG and DEI communications veteran, board member, strategist and investor who has helped individuals and companies tackle the toughest challenges, transitions and transformations in their worlds. Having survived countless life setbacks and two rounds with terminal cancer, while seeing the country-wide collapse of the systems and safety nets for the most vulnerable in and outside our communities, she is now shifting her life and career trajectories to focus on coaching and consulting with those facing down fundamental shifts and transitions as they try to adapt to change while rebuilding their lives and businesses during these unprecedented times.